Vilma Baçe, Board Member for Retail Business
Raiffeisen Bank is moving fast steps towards a digital transformation of its products and services. Zj. Vilma Baçe, Member of the Board of Directors for Retail Business at Raiffeisen Bank says in an interview for shqiptarja.com that for this year the bank's strategy is to strengthen the focus on digital channels and maintain a leading position in the market in this regard. Ms. Baçe says that Raiffeisen aims to offer its customers access to products and services at all times, regardless of location. According to her, Albania has a population eager to understand and use digital products, so Raiffeisen is investing more and more in innovation.
How has your journey been in Raiffeisen Bank and what can you say about your new position as Board Member for Retail Business?
This year it is going to be my 18-th year of being part of Raiffeisen Bank Albania. Throughout my journey in this bank, I have held different positions, starting as Head of Public Relations and Marketing, later on as Head of Retail Sales and Branch Network. In the meantime, I have been engaged as a Member of the Supervision Board of Raiffeisen Invest Albania, also as an external lecturer at the University of Tirana, in the Journalism major and lately, I have been appointed Board Member for Retail Business.
In the current position, I cover a full range of the bank products and services that are offered to individuals and small and medium enterprises from product creation, digital developments, customer experience, and sales in the branch network.
This is a complex position and it is crucial to the bank for in the business area for individuals we are the biggest bank in the market, with the broadest network of branches and ATM-s, from which the clients have big expectations regarding service, range of bank products we bring and continuing innovation, therefore there are lots of challenges, but also a lot of pleasure that stems from the teamwork of a talented and committed crew. The key to my inspiration and faith is the fact that I have handled a big part of these processes myself throughout my journey in the bank, but of course, for the other part of them, the cognition process continues. I have always believed that we learn every day, in spite of the position we hold, so challenges grow my motivation to continually discover and bring innovation to the market.
Where is the strategy of the retail business focused on and what is your bank’s strength in this sense?
Even though the sales part is the most obvious one, the sales business strategy cannot be separated from the other part of the Retail business such as products, services for individuals, small and medium enterprises. In order for the sales to be successfully finalized, all these departments work together organically, creating a lot of synergies.
Our strategy this year will be to retain the main position in the creation of new digital products, to ease as many processes as possible, enabling them online, and offer the best services to our clients experience-wise on all touchpoints with our bank, focusing of course on digital sales, so as to facilitate our products and services to the clients, without stress, anytime, anywhere.
We serve approximately 442 thousand individual clients and approximately 31 thousand small and medium enterprises with the broadest branch network, 74 in total, and 178 ATM-s all over Albania, fulfilling credit needs, bank services, and investments with a professional and dedicated staff.
We invest annually in innovation and constant improvement of our processes and product specifics. The products and innovative solutions I can list are the first of their kind in our market introduced by Raiffeisen Bank such as Digital wallet Raipay, payments in QR code Scan&Pay, money transfer with Kuik, multifunctional ATM-s, virtual assistant Rona. All the developments of our digital platform RON or recently Scan & Go, prove that innovation in bank services is one of our strengths and simultaneously our commitment as a bank to the continuous improvement of the consumer experience in order for the clients to have a positive and superior experience in our physical branches and digital channels.
For quite some time now, RBAL has brought innovation in digital services. Has the market embraced them easily and what have been your challenges in implementing these services?
I think the Albanian market, the same as the other markets in the Western Balkans, has the same trend concerning the education on the usage of digital products. We are slower than the rest of Western Europe, but we aim to reach those levels. It is part of Raiffeisen Bank Albania’s mission to educate the client and the market and also the introduction of innovation in our sector.
We have a new population, eager to learn, understand and use digital products, but there is no doubt that the efforts are constant, and this is not a process that has an end to it and it doesn’t have a rhythm that can be determined from a party either. I think that is very important that we use the trust that the clients have in our name, people, and knowledge, to educate individual clients and business clients financially and digitally.
In your point of view, what were the most important changes that the pandemic brought in the way of operating and business?
The pandemic taught us that, even though we have been living and operating for years in markets with insecurities and fluctuations, we can always be facing greater unexpected unknowns. In those hard times, we understood the key role that our employees played, not losing their motivation for even a moment. We were one of the banks that served in a large number of branches, every day, in the middle of the difficulties that the pandemic brought upon us, amidst the risk of the unknown, but with a lot of dedication to be there for our clients even in such times.
Luckily, our digital platform Raiffeisen On was well-developed and another lesson we learned was the usefulness of the investments made on it but also the need for further ones. During the pandemic shutdown, we had considerable growth in our digital platform users. We will continue introducing as many digital products and services as possible so that it is not mandatory for the clients to present themselves at the branches.
The promptness of offering a service from any place given and not necessarily in the branch areas, I think, is a priority that Raiffeisen Bank will retain for the future as well.
Is the current situation going to impact lending and interest rates for small enterprises and individuals?
Raiffeisen Bank Albania holds the largest lending portfolio for individuals and small enterprises. We will continue growing to lend and fulfilling our clients’ needs at any time with competitive prices, but always keeping in mind their financial situation. By that, I mean that for us is very important to have a not abused client, but a financially fulfilled one, making sure to not oversell our products when the client’s financial situation is not stable.
I think ethics helps the business and not the other way round. We appreciate the trust our clients have in our name, and we would not waste that selling one or more loans. We believe in building long-term relationships, in order to go towards our vision; to be the most recommended banking group.
What are your main expectations and objectives for business continuity throughout 2022?
The 2022 year has started on a quite positive pace, and I remain on the optimistic side of the foresight. Of course, we are very attentive to understanding how the increase in the inflation rate, prices, or fuel, impacts the financial situation of our clients, businesses, or individuals. We want to always be trusted partners for our clients, making the impossible to help and advise them even in times of insecurities or big changes and this wish remains intact.
Investments in digital products and on our platform R-On will continue. We are proving this step by step, recently introducing the digital wallet Raipay, which I briefly mentioned before. The aim is to offer digital products and services as in the Western Europe countries.
Soon, we will introduce our loans for Agri, which we expect to impact and help a lot of small and medium enterprises that operate in the agricultural sector, a very important component of the Albanian economy.
We carefully follow the market’s developments in order to properly adapt our politics and priorities. Raiffeisen Bank operates in the Albanian market for more than 18 years and we plan on staying here for a long time, therefore we will continue investing and being an important positive factor in the economic growth of the country, strengthening the individual finances and wellbeing of our clients, being there for them with the right products and pieces of advice.
I think we will have a challenging year, but a successful one, for we have professionals, colleagues that work here for years, that invest in their knowledge in a continuous way, precisely so that we can give the best consumer experience. This makes me believe that with the right people and our client’s trust, a very good year awaits us.